Remaining one-year-deal starters (or what’s left of them)

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty)

A few weeks ago Tim Dierkes of MLBTR noted that there were still a handful of one-year stopgap starting pitchers on the market. Between the relative lack of activity on the Yankees’ part along with the team standing to benefit from added rotation depth (and not wanting to overpay for said depth), myself and others have spent a lot of time during the last calendar year trying to identify sensible low-cost options for the team. Of course, as our own Mike recently astutely noted:

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.”

I’m very interested to see what Phelps (who I’ll be taking an in-depth look at on Monday), Noesi, and Warren might be able to do given the opportunity; however, this being the offseason and all I wanted to take one more pass through the unsigned names to see whether any of ’em may make a modicum of sense. I began drafting this post two days ago; before I could even get through a couple of paragraphs a handful of names on my initial list quickly came off the board, including Aaron Cook (signed by the Red Sox to a minor-league deal), Paul Maholm (signed by the Cubs to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a club option) and Wei-Yin Chen (somewhat inexplicably signed by the Orioles to a three-year deal that appears to have evaluated him on what he did prior to 2011).

Anyway, by my count here are the remaining guys presumably in line for one-year or minor-league contacts:

Bartolo Colon
Jeff Francis
Jon Garland
Rich Harden
Hiroki Kuroda
Roy Oswalt
Brad Penny
Joel Pineiro
Joe Saunders
Kyle Davies
Zach Duke
Livan Hernandez
Kevin Millwood
Ross Ohlendorf
Tim Wakefield
Chris Young

And here’s a link to a customized leaderboard I created on Fangraphs showing how they performed in 2011. There isn’t anything all that surprising in here; if you’re a believer in Bartolo Colon having another 2011 in him he’s pretty clearly the most appealing option of the bunch, having been the most valuable per fWAR, posting the third-best K/9, 5th-best BB/9 and 3rd-best FIP and xFIP.

Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda of course also look appealing, but as we know the Yankees remain uninterested unless either righty’s asking price drops substantially. The only other remotely appealing player in my book on this list is Rich Harden, who I covered extensively back in November, but his propensity to give up the long ball combined with legitimate health concerns are apparently outweighing the mouth-watering strikeout rate and continuing to keep suitors away.

For depth purposes, I still wouldn’t mind seeing the Yanks take a flier on Harden — who’s barely merited a mention on MLBTR this winter —  if his price ends up being near the $1.5M deal he signed with Oakland last season, although at this point he doesn’t pass the “better than Nova and Garcia” test, nor is he an obvious upgrade over old friend Bartolo. Ultimately, if the Yankees do decide to pass on a Colon reunion and asking prices for others remain unfavorable, it would appear that their best move would indeed be to utilize the rotation depth they have at AAA for the 2012 season.

Sorting out the Triple-A Scranton roster

The everyday catcher at Triple-A, finally. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Now more than ever, clubs are using their Triple-A affiliate as an extension of the big league roster. The Yankees are no different, so you’ll see some spare parts filling out the Triple-A Scranton roster around the actual prospects his summer. There will be an extra outfielder and infielder, as well as a horde of spare arms. I don’t mean the kind of arms with long-term potential, I mean the disposable kind that can come up, get thrown to the wolves for a few days, then be cast aside and released. The Buddy Carlyle, Brett Tomko, and Amaury Sanit types. Those guys serve a purpose, albeit a small one.

The core of this year’s Triple-A team will be a deep pitching staff, particularly the starters. If everyone makes it through Spring Training healthy and the Yankees don’t need any of their young guys on the Opening Day roster, they’ll have to figure out how to squeeze six starters into five Triple-A rotation spots. The bullpen figures to boast a few power arms and a few savvy veterans, some of whom we’ll surely see at some point this coming summer.

Since we’ve sufficiently analyzed the big league roster to death, let’s take a second to look at what the Triple-A roster might look like when the season begins. Remember, it’s only a 24-man roster down in Triple-A, so there’s one less spot to play around with. Considering how infrequently the 25th man plays in the bigs, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Position Players (12)

Everyday Lineup: C Austin Romine, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Brandon Laird, OF Colin Curtis, OF Dewayne Wise, OF Cole Garner
Bench: C Gus Molina, IF Kevin Russo, OF Dan Brewer, UTIL Jayson Nix

The DH will rotate in all likelihood, allowing Russo, Brewer and Nix to get semi-regular at-bats. Laird figures to see the majority of his time at third base, but he’ll also play some first base and left field. Curtis and Garner will see time in all three outfield spots, as will Brewer off the bench. JoVa will get the occasional start at third. It’s all about developing and maintaining versatility for these guys.

Speaking of Vazquez, there have been unconfirmed rumors that he may flee for Japan (where he’d make considerably more money), which would open the door for someone like Bradley Suttle or Cody Johnson to get their first taste of life above Double-A. A minor league free agent could also be an option for that spot, perhaps someone like Dan Johnson or even Nick Johnson. That would be kinda neat.

The two wildcards here are Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson, both of whom are out of minor league options and will need to clear waivers to be sent down at any point next season. If one of those guys manages to make it through waivers and starts the season in Triple-A, it’ll likely push Brewer back to Double-A. It would shock me if both clear, but in that case the Yankees would probably just release Wise and send Brewer back to Tripe-A.

Reegie Corona is still in the organization after finally being taken off the 40-man roster a few months ago, and he’s a prime phantom DL candidate. That means he’ll remain with the team but not be on the active roster, instead stashed away on the DL with a fake injury and ready to be activated whenever someone else actually does get hurt. Doug Bernier could be destined for the same fate as well.

Pitching Staff (12)

Another Opening Day start for Phelps? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Rotation: Hector Noesi, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren
Bullpen: D.J. Mitchell, George Kontos, Mike O’Connor, Matt Daley, Kevin Whelan, Adam Miller, ???

I’m working under the assumption that none of these guys will be needed in the big league rotation when the regular season begins, so everyone will get jammed in Triple-A. That creates a bit of a logjam because we’ve got six starters for five spots. Brian Cashman indicated during the Winter Meetings that Noesi will start somewhere (either in Triple-A or the bigs) in 2012, and they’re very unlikely to bump either Banuelos or Betances into the bullpen or back to Double-A. That leaves two spots for Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell.

As part of last week’s Yankees Top Ten Prospects Chat (subs. req’d), Baseball America’s John Manuel said Mitchell is “still viewed as more of a reliever long-term inside the organization,” mentioning him as a candidate for a “Ramiro Mendoza kind of swing role.” I called him a relief candidate back before the 2010 season, so it’s probably not a terrible time to make the conversion given that he has a full year of Triple-A starting under his belt. He can still work multiple innings out of the bullpen, and whenever one of the starters gets inevitably called up, he can step right into the rotation. Assuming he isn’t the one called up, of course.

Kontos and Whelan are the veterans in the bullpen, at least in the sense that they were with the team last year. The latter figures to again serve as closer. O’Connor and Daley are on minor league contracts and are ticketed for Triple-A, as is Miller barring an absolutely dominant camp and a surprise spot on the big league team’s Opening Day roster. I’m fairly certain that he’ll get some regular innings in the minors before being considered for a big league spot later on during the summer, assuming he pitches well enough to deserve the look.

That ??? bullpen spot is very much up for grabs. It could go to Ryan Pope, who started last year at this level, or possibly even Pat Venditte. Craig Heyer and Cory Arbiso are also possibilities. Hideki Okajima is on a minor league deal, but at the moment I expect him to make the Yankees roster to open the season. There’s always the minor league free agent pool, as the Yankees could bring back someone like Josh Schmidt or Eric Wordkemper, or go for some new blood instead. There is no shortage of arms still available on the open market (RHP, LHP).

Update: Cesar Cabral is also a Triple-A relief option, albeit in a roundabout way. Since he’s a Rule 5 Draft pick for the second time, he can elect free agency rather than be returned to his original team (the Red Sox) if the Yankees don’t want him. In that case, they can simply re-sign him and send him down. The Diamondbacks did the exact same thing with former Yankees farmhand Zach Kroenke.

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The neat thing about Triple-A baseball is that even if the Opening Day roster ends up looking like it does in this post, it won’t matter a month into the season. There will be injuries, promotions, demotions, veterans opting out of contracts, you name it. The roster turnover at this level is insane, upwards of 70 transactions a year. It’s not enough to be 25 men deep these days, the Yankees need this depth tucked away in Triple-A to serve as viable replacements for those “just in case” moments.

Improving the Yankee Stadium experience

When Opening Day rolls around in a few months, it will be the fourth at the new Yankee Stadium. Christened with a World Series in its first year, the new Stadium has simply become a comfortable home. I haven’t forgotten the old park; considering how much time I spent there during my teenage years, I never will. But the new place is where I got to see a lot of games every summer and will be for most of the rest of my life.

That said, the new stadium is far from perfect. I miss the intimacy and vastness of the Tier level, and I miss the view into Monument Park. The current home is a temple to the gaudiness of the Yankees, and it’s easy for a guy who doesn’t want to go broke attending baseball to feel a bit marginalized from the field.

As the seasons have marched on, the Yankees haven’t really done much to the new Yankee Stadium. They painted the overbearing concrete in the bleachers a darker shade of blue and made some minor upgrades, but as the Mets lower the fences and try to bring some semblance of their own history to their new stadium, the Yankees are content with what they’ve built. They could make some changes though, and as Opening Day inches closer, I have my own wishlist for the new house.

1. Mystique and Aura in the Stands
Once upon a time at the old park, it used to be possible to roam the stadium before the game with, by and large, free reign of the place. At a certain time, ushers would gently ask fans to head to their seats, but autograph hounds could stake out batting practice. At the new park, the general atmosphere in the lower seating bowls is one somewhere between antipathy and hostility. Guards will promptly sweep out people who aren’t where they should be a good 90 minutes before first pitch, and forget about ever crossing the moat that separates most fans from the field.

The Yankees needn’t compromise on their high-ticket packages to make the place a bit more welcoming for those who just want a close-up of the field. Calling off the hounds earlier on and making the fans more welcome would go a long way toward instilling the stadium with its own set of mystique and aura. We’re fans. We want to be there, and we’re not out to cause trouble.

2. Better Food
For all the promise of better food the new stadium brought with it, the non-exclusive dining options are your run-of-the-mill stadium stands. The hot dog buns aren’t much, and the specialty stands feature bland and overpriced items with ever-shrinking portions. The debut of Parm in the Great Hall was a fantastic start last season, but with Shake Shack and Blue Smoke headlining Citi Field, our ballpark in the Bronx has a long way to go. The crab legs I had that one time in the Legends Suites were pretty damn good though.

3. Monument Cave
At the old stadium, Monument Park and the retired numbers were a point of pride for the Yankees. They were visible throughout the stadium and during the game. At the new park, the monuments are buried beneath a sports bar and are covered for first pitch. The Yanks’ rich history has been rendered an afterthought, and we espy only glimpses of the retired numbers. I have to think the club could flip the visitors’ bullpen with Monument Park to make it a more open-air attraction as it used to be.

4. Between-Inning Entertainment
We’ve had the same between-inning entertainment options for eons now. Yankee trivia, Who’s That Baby?, Match Game NY — the list goes on and on and on. Between that and the staid selection of stadium songs that filter over the PA system, the in-game production could use a refresh.

Yankees in a “holding pattern” with regards to pitching

Earlier today we learned that the Yankees will reevaluate their budget in the coming weeks, and tonight the Jons (Heyman and Morosi) report that the team is in a “holding pattern” with regards to its pitching search. They are still in touch with Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Oswalt, but they just don’t like the asking prices. They are not interested in Ryan Madson, however. So in other words … nothing new to report.

Open Thread: Steve Sax

I’m not old enough to remember Willie Randolph’s playing days, but I do remember the guy that replaced him at second base. That’d be Steve Sax. The long-time Dodger joined the Yankees as a free agent before the 1989 season, and went on to hit .294/.342/.376 with 117 stolen bases and more walks (142) than strikeouts (128) during his three years in the Bronx. He made a pair of All-Star Game appearances and even garnered some MVP votes one year.

The Yankees traded Sax to the White Sox for three young pitchers — Melido Perez, Bob Wickman, and Domingo Jean — on this date 20 years ago, and about a month after that he promptly got into trouble with the Springfield PD. I dunno man, there are a ton of unsolved murders in this city and Steve Sax is still on the loose…

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Here is your open thread for the night. The three hockey locals are playing, but you’re out of luck if you’re a Time Warner customer. Still no MSG for us. Talk about anything you like here, just don’t be a dick.

Yankees interested in re-signing Luis Ayala

Via Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Yankees remain interested in re-signing the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in baseball history, Luis Ayala. Well, technically that nickname doesn’t apply anymore thanks to that three-run homer he allowed to Evan Longoria in Game 162 last year, which knocked his final ERA up to 2.09.

In all seriousness, Ayala was perfectly fine given his role, which was basically the last guy in the bullpen for most of the season. He did it with ground balls (50.0%), not with strikeouts (6.27 K/9 and 16.7 K%) or even by limiting walks (3.21 BB/9 and 8.6 BB%). The Yankees have two open spots in their bullpen and Ayala — who turns 34 on Thursday — would fit decently into one of them, but this isn’t a situation where they have to go nuts to sign him. Five other clubs reportedly have interest in signing him, and anything more than a few hundred grand or so would really be pushing it.

Imagining a pinstriped reunion with Kerry Wood

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last off-season might have gone a bit differently if not for Kerry Wood’s desperate desire to again pitch in Chicago. After coming over to the Yankees at the 2010 trade deadline, Wood impressed all observers, allowing just two runs himself, plus one inherited runner, in 26 IP. In the playoffs he continued his impressive pitching, allowing just two runs in eight innings. After the season Wood became a free agent, and the Yankees expressed desire in re-signing him. But Wood yearned for his professional roots in Chicago so deeply that he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Had Wood been more open to a more lucrative one-year deal with the Yankees, they would not have signed Rafael Soriano.

This off-season, Wood has changed his tune. While he’d reportedly like to stay in Chicago, he won’t sign quite so cheaply this time. Rather than give one team preferential treatment, Wood seeks a market value deal for his services. The latest, from Dave Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (via MLBTR), speculates that Wood’s “days as a Cub appear all but over.” The Cubs apparently offered Wood a “substantial” raise over last season, but apparently it is not to his liking. That opens the market for him.

The Yankees have a relatively stacked bullpen, so Wood’s presence is not a necessity. As Mike noted recently, there are only two remaining bullpen spots and plenty of candidates to fill them. Since one will likely go to a long reliever — which they will need if they plan to start the season with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett in the rotation — that leaves only one spot for Wood. It’s unlikely that the Yankees want to fill out their bullpen with unmovable bodies right now, so a Wood reunion is nothing but a fantasy. Yet it remains intriguing. A stacked bullpen can help bandage a wounded rotation until reinforcements arrive. Having Wood, Soriano, David Robertson, and eventually Joba Chamberlain* available to pitch later in games, the Yankees could seal down victories even if their starters go five innings and give up four runs.

*Unless, of course, Joba goes to the rotation. /troll’d

The bullpen situation isn’t the only one holding back the Yankees from making this move. They also have budgetary issues. The Yankees could decide to expand the budget in order to augment the starting rotation. But to make a budget-expanding decision for another relief pitcher? It seems unlikely. While there’s not a ton of risk in the move — it would cost around $4 million for one year — there’s also limited upside. Again, it would be reinforcing an area of strength. That can help in some ways, but it probably won’t make a huge impact.

Still, it’s tough to think of Wood and not remember his glorious run from August through October, 2010. His very first appearance set the tone for his tenure. He came in to relieve CC Sabathia in the 7th inning of a game in Tampa, striking out the final batter of the inning. He then walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth and then allowed a single before striking out the next two guys and then loading the bases with a walk. Chad Gaudin had to finish the job, but that’s because Joe Girardi didn’t yet know what he had in Wood. For the next three months Wood got the Yankees out of numerous jams, many of which were of his own creation. It wasn’t quite magical, but it was certainly something different. It’s the kind of run that makes fans want the player back with their team, despite the possible irrationality of it.

Many contenders could use bullpen help, and plenty of them likely have $4 or $5 million they could pay Kerry Wood. They also might have more prominent setup roles. This, combined with the Yankees’ needs elsewhere, makes it unlikely we’ll see a clean shaven Kerry Wood donning pinstripes in 2012. It’s a nice thought, given how well he pitched in 2010. But right now the case for bringing in Wood is based on nostalgia. That’s probably not something that will convince the Yankees brass to make the move.